A Clean Sweep

Now that spring is here, it's time to give everything a good scrub, including the windows and screens.

April 11, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

So you feel proud of yourself for getting that closet emptied out last week? Here's what Diana Taylor of Harford County is doing in the way of spring cleaning: The mother of four, who also works part time as a bookkeeper and volunteers at her children's schools, cleans her house from top to bottom. Literally. She starts by washing the ceilings of her five- bedroom home with bleach and water and works her way down. She vacuums or dusts every part of the house thoroughly and flips the mattresses. She has her children clean out their drawers and closets before she tackles their rooms. It takes about a month.

"There aren't too many of us left," she admits. "But when every inch of the house is clean, it makes me feel better."

For most of us, such dedication to cleanliness simply isn't an option. This is the end of the '90s. We're lucky if we get the dishes washed, let alone the ceilings.

Still, there are some chores we don't do on a regular basis that can't be ignored forever, such as washing windows. While there's no real reason these tough jobs have to be done in the spring, many of us are like Diana Taylor in one way.

"I'm inspired by the weather," she says.

Inspired or not, the hardest part of spring cleaning is getting started. The best way to do that, obvious as it seems, is to make a realistic list of the chores that you want to get done and start with the first one. Otherwise you may not get farther than the first room.

Approach the task in a positive way, suggests Laurel Stevens, owner of the Baltimore cleaning service Maid to Order. (Not so easy when most of us would rather be doing just about anything else.)

"We recommend thinking of it as making everything sparkle," Stevens says. Her list of spring-cleaning chores includes washing windows, polishing silver, using polish or lemon oil on furniture, making chrome surfaces and mirrors shine in the kitchen and bathrooms.

This is also the time, she says, to pull out furniture when you vacuum and to wash Venetian and mini-blinds. For this tedious chore she suggests closing the blinds, washing down one side and then pulling them out and going up inside. Reverse the blinds and repeat the process the opposite way.

"It's easier than the old-fashioned way of putting them in the bathtub," she says.

In the past people cleaned in the spring because it was necessary. During the winter gas sconces, fireplaces and other heat sources had deposited soot and dirt around the house. That's no longer a problem; but if you don't have time to clean the whole house, you might limit your chores to ones that make seasonal sense. When else will you appreciate clean windows as much as right now?

The top spring-cleaning chore on just about every cleaning professional's list seems to be windows. If you do nothing else, wash them or hire a professional.

"The impact made by clean windows is like redecorating," says Jeff Campbell, author of several best-selling books on household chores, including "Speed Cleaning" and "Spring Cleaning," both published by Dell.

Forget the newspapers and the spray-on window cleaner. Campbell suggests using a squeegee and ammonia or -- surprise -- Cascade. The dishwasher detergent, he says, is close to the formula professionals use. Start with one tablespoon per bucket of cool water. (Hot water evaporates too quickly on the window.)

The most important thing to remember about using a squeegee is that the blade must be dry with each stroke and must be started on a dry surface each time. That way you'll avoid streaks.

After windows, Campbell's favorite spring-cleaning chores involve the outside of the house -- pressure-washing the exterior walls, for instance, or the deck. You can rent a machine to make the job easier.

Another warm weather-related chore is washing screens, not something you want to tackle unless you can do it outside.

"It's one of the biggest ways people fall short," says Tim Evankovich, a partner in the Cleaning Authority, a Columbia cleaning service. "It's a major cause of window dirt. When rain hits them it carries dirt, debris and mineral deposits onto the windows."

Remove the screens and clean them with a garden hose with a powerful spray or scrub them with dishwashing soap and water. Chemical cleaners, Evankovich says, may react with the metal and cause future problems with mineral deposits. Campbell recommends putting down an old piece of carpet outside and scrubbing the screens on it with a brush and soap. "The other side will get scrubbed by the carpet."

Evankovich also suggests opening windows and cleaning the interior of the sills in the spring, something most of us never think of doing.

Even if you aren't going to do major spring cleaning yourself, this is a good time to have wood floors serviced professionally, he adds. You might also send out draperies and slipcovers to be cleaned, and hire a professional to shampoo your carpets and upholstery.

"The house is most people's biggest asset," Campbell points out. "It's worth taking care of."

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